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06/29/2006 Fighting for Child Care and Retail Workers




Thursday, June 29, 2006

In Today's Dispatch:

Rewarding-Work

NY: Child Care Workers Poised to Win Bargaining Rights

Despite a veto by the governor, the New York State legislature is poised to override and enact reforms to allow day care workers to form labor unions.   The bill, A10060, sponsored by Assemblyman Adriano Espaillat (a Progressive States board member) and Senator Nick Spano, would effect an estimated 52,000 day care workers in facilities subsidized by state funds, given them standing to negotiate with the state for wage increases, as well as benefits like health care, workers' compensation, paid vacation or sick days.  

Currently, such workers in New York state usually make $15,000 to $19,000 per year, a poverty wage that hurts the workers but also shortchanges the care of children, since such low wages inevitably mean high turnover and low training in the field.  Improving work conditions is the first step to creating a more professional, better trained corps of professionals engaged in early education of our children. As this policy brief by the Equal Opportunity Institute details:

From a substantial body of research, we know that a strong relationship exists between the education, experience, and compensation of early learning and care teachers and the quality of teaching and care in early learning programs...High-quality child care continued to positively predict children’s performance well into their K-12 careers.   Childcare quality was related to both basic cognitive skills (e.g., language and math) and children’s behavioral skills in the classroom (e.g., thinking/attention skills, socialization, and peer relations). Children who have been traditionally at risk of not doing well in school are affected more by the quality of childcare experiences than other children.

Even before New York acted, a number of states had taken similar steps to improve the condition of child care workers.   Last year, Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich signed an executive order to allow 47,000 day care workers to organize into unions and have since signed their first collective bargaining agreement to raise wages and benefits.  And just last month, Washington State Gov. Chris Gregoire signed HB 2353, sponsored by Rep. Eric Pettigrew, which authorized collective bargaining for more than 10,000 child care providers.

The success of the New York bill is also seen as a boost to the clout of New York's Working Families Party, which strongly mobilized its supporters around the bill.

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Rewarding-Work

DC: Big Box Wage and Benefits Bill Introduced

Following Chicago's lead, DC Councilman Phill Mendelson has introduced a bill to require large retailers such as Wal-Mart and Costco to pay employees a living wage of $11 an hour plus health benefits worth at least $3 a hour. The bill also would give labor groups and the public access to public areas of a firm to communicate with employees about their rights. As we detailed in last week's Dispatch, a major committee and a majority of Chicago City Council members have endorsed a similar bill for that city.

Some critics have questioned applying different minimum wage rates to large retailers, but in fact, as this chart indicates, the federal minimum wage historically had different rates for both different industries and different size firms within various industries, including different minimum wage rates for large versus small retailers.   Large retailers like Wal-Mart clearly exercise disproportionate power in the marketplace and are therefore more profitable than many smaller firms, so it is reasonable for communities to demand a higher wage rate for workers in such large retailers.

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Increasing-Democracy

SCOTUS Strikes Down Campaign Finance Laws; Public Financing Strongest Constitutional Option

This week, the Supreme Court struck down Vermont's strict limits on campaign contributions and expenditures by candidates.  In a set of fractured opinions in Randall v. Sorrell, the Court did not put an end to all campaign finance limits but did put a roadblock in the way of anything much more restrictive than most present laws.  So if there is going to be more serious reform to lessen the power of special interest money in politics, the only real remaining route to reform are systems of public financing of elections like Maine and Arizona.

Background on the Decision:  To help legislators respond, the following is a brief summary of the case, but we recommend the following more indepth analyses as well:

  • National Voter Rights Institute
  • Brennan Center for Justice
  • ScotusBlog posts here and here
  • Expenditure Limits: Vermont's legislature adopted Act 64 as a means of reducing the appearance of corruption and freeing elected officials from the relentless pursuit of funds. Act 64 was notably different from many campaign finance laws around the country in that it placed hard limits not just on the amount that individuals could contribute to campaigns, but that it also placed mandatory limits on how much money campaigns could spend. Spending limits had been rejected by the Supreme Court in the Buckley decision as violating the First Amendment. Defenders of Act 64 raised a new argument -- regarding the need to preserve elected officials' time for activities other than fundraising -- but saw this argument rejected by the three Justices whose opinion is now the closest thing to law on the matter.
  • Contribution Limits: While the Court rejected the view of Justices Scalia and Thomas that any limitation on contributions is a violation of the First Amendment, Justice Breyer's holding opinion (joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito) applied a five-part test in ruling that Vermont's strict contribution limits were unconstitutional. The harm found was that overly strict contribution limits both threaten speech and can prevent challengers from being able to mount serious campaigns against incumbents. Lower courts will need time to sort out this opinion, but the ruling does threaten laws in other states with strict contribution limits.

Public Financing: Fortunately, nothing in the decision threatens voluntary public financing of elections, the clear alternative to mandatory expenditure and contribution limits.   Voluntary public financing systems free candidates from the time-consuming process of fundraising and the ensuing obligation to campaign contributors and, by requiring participants to opt into expenditure limits, help put some cap on out-of-control spending in elections in favor or candidates focusing on talking to real voters.  If there is any good result out of the Court's decision, it may help focus reform away from endless tinkering with a broken campaign finance system and towards full public financing reforms -- the best solution policy-wise, politically, and Constitutionally.

Fortunately, the clean campaigns movement is really taking off. The states of Arizona and Maine already have public financing laws in place, as do the cities of Portland, OR and Albuquerque, NM, and Connecticut just enacted a system that will go into effect in the 2008 election cycle. A clean elections initiative has qualified for the ballot in California for this November's election. And other organizations across the country are working on reforms in their own states.

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Research Roundup

Financial Segregation, Abandoned Properties, and Ways to Build Creative Cities

A new Brookings Institution study, Where Did They Go? The Decline of Middle-Income Neighborhoods in Metropolitan America details the increasing financial segegration of families as mixed middle income neighborhoods have increasingly disappeared.  Such segregation has created new challenges in delivering public services and connecting low-income workers with jobs often created in higher-income areas.

The United States Conference of Mayors has just released, Mayors’ Resource Guide on Vacant and Abandoned Properties, a guide to strategies for cities to reclaim abandoned buildings and revitalize communities.  The strategies outline range from preventing abandonment in the first place to how cities can gain control of them once abandoned and how best to foster reuse of them.

A three-day conference in Philadelphia discussed that how cities can harness the energy of the "creative economy" of design, architecture, fashion, software development, peforming and fine arts, film production and other endeavors to build local economies.  By fostering a tolerant environment open to innovation, communities have increasingly seen strong economic returns.

NY: Child Care Workers Poised to Win Bargaining Rights

NY A10060- New York bill to give child care workers collective bargaining rights
WA HB 2353-  Washington State law giving child care workers collective bargaining rights
IL Executive Order on Collective Negotiation by Day Care Home Providers
National Women's Law Center, Fact Sheet-Child Care Providers: Increasing Compensation Raises Women's Wages and Improves Child Care Quality
Equal Opportunity Institute, Early Childhood Education Career and Wage Ladder
SEIU Child Care and Head Start Workers
AFSCME Child Care Providers Together
United Federation of Teachers Family Child Care Providers

DC: Big Box Wage and Benefits Bill Introduced

US Department of Labor, History of Federal Minimum Wage
Chicago "Big Box" ordinance, living wage, benefits and free speech access to large retailers

SCOTUS Strikes Down Campaign Finance Laws; Public Financing Strongest Constitutional Option

Supreme Court, Opinions in Vermont campaign finance case
Progressive States, Clean Money Public Financing of Campaigns
Public Campaign
Americans for Campaign Reform

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Eye on the Right

With their colleagues in other states under fire for violating rules of law and common decency, signature gatherers backing an anti-spending measure in Nebraska have now been caught red-handed by the Secretary of State ignoring state law. Nebraska requires signature gatherers to read the official petition description to every potential signer to prevent confusion in signing. After witnessing a signature gatherer ignoring these laws, the state official is considering leading a charge next year to tighten signature gathering rules further.

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Matt Singer
Editor, Stateside Dispatch